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What happened on Jan. 6: Trump stands back as rioters breach Capitol

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President Donald Trump had just returned to the White House from his rally at the Ellipse on Jan. 6 when he retired to his private dining room just off the Oval Office, flipped on the massive flat-screen television and took in the show. At the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue, thousands of his supporters were wearing his red caps, waving his blue flags and chanting his name.

Live television news coverage showed the horror accelerating minute by minute after 1:10 p.m., when Trump had called on his followers to march on the U.S. Capitol. The pro-Trump rioters toppled security barricades. They bludgeoned police. They scaled granite walls. And then they smashed windows and doors to breach the hallowed building that has stood for more than two centuries as the seat of American democracy.

The Capitol was under siege — and the president, glued to the television, did nothing. For 187 minutes, Trump resisted entreaties to intervene from advisers, allies and his elder daughter, as well as lawmakers under attack. Even as the violence at the Capitol intensified, even after Vice President Mike Pence, his family and hundreds of Congress members and their staffers hid to protect themselves, even after the first two people died and scores of others were assaulted, Trump declined for more than three hours to tell the renegades rioting in his name to stand down and go home.

All in the first two hours.

His “Make America Great Again” army was on the march, just as he had commanded at the rally. The president had directed his followers to head to the Capitol in a forceful show of “pride and boldness” to pressure lawmakers to try to overturn the results of an election he falsely claimed had been rigged. And there they were, literally fighting to keep Trump in power.

An investigation by The Washington Post provides the richest understanding to date of Trump’s mindset and the cost of his inaction as democracy came under attack. It also reveals new aspects of an extensive pressure campaign by the president and those around him to get Pence to block certification of the election results — including a last-ditch appeal on the night of Jan. 6, after the riot was over, by attorney John C. Eastman, who urged Pence to reject electors as Congress reconvened.

The Post’s investigation also found that signs of escalating danger were in full view hours before the Capitol attack, including clashes that morning among hundreds of pro-Trump demonstrators and police at the Washington Monument and Lincoln Memorial. The mounting red flags did not trigger stepped-up security responses that morning, underscoring how unprepared law enforcement authorities were for the violence that transpired. Yet some officials knew what to expect; Rep. Liz CheneyRep. Liz CheneyClose The GOP congresswoman from Wyoming worked behind the scenes to make sure the Jan. 6 electoral count was not disrupted. Afterward, she paid a steep political price. (R-Wyo.) had hired a personal security detail out of fear for her own safety.

Key findings
  • Escalating danger signs were in full view hours before the Capitol attack, but did not trigger a stepped-up security response
  • Trump had direct warnings of the risks, but stood by for 187 minutes before telling his supporters to go home
  • His allies pressured Pence to reject the election results even after the Capitol siege
  • The FBI was forced to improvise a plan to take back control of the Capitol

As Trump watched on television as rioters broke into the Capitol, he raged to those around him about the vice president. At 2:24 p.m., the very moment that Pence and his family were endangered by violent marauders calling him a traitor — “Hang Mike Pence!” some of them chanted — Trump made clear in a tweet whose side he was on:

Two minutes later, Trump called Sen. Tommy Tuberville, a newly elected Republican from Alabama who had been one of the president’s more outspoken allies propagating election fraud claims. “Coach, how’s it going?” Trump asked the former Auburn University football coach.

“Not very good, Mr. President,” Tuberville responded. “As a matter of fact, they’re about to evacuate us.”

“I know we’ve got problems,” Trump responded.

Many others tried to influence the president. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), a Trump booster, called him and said, “You have to denounce this.” Trump falsely claimed to McCarthy that the rioters were members of antifa, but McCarthy corrected him and said they were in fact Trump supporters.

“You know what I see, Kevin? I see people who are more upset about the election than you are. They like Trump more than you do,” the president replied.

“You’ve got to hold them,” McCarthy said. “You need to get on TV right now, you need to get on Twitter, you need to call these people off.”

Trump responded, “Kevin, they’re not my people.”

Supporters of President Donald Trump wend through Washington early on Jan. 6. (Photos by Matt McClain/The Washington Post)

Seven hours to go

The morning of Jan. 6, Donell HarvinDonell HarvinClose As the head of intelligence at D.C.’s homeland security office, Harvin led a team that spotted warnings that extremists planned to descend on the Capitol and disrupt the electoral count., the head of intelligence at D.C.’s homeland security office, pulled onto the Baltimore-Washington Parkway to head downtown from suburban Maryland and was surprised to find himself in heavy traffic. Then Harvin noticed the car in front of him had an out-of-state license plate. So did the one beside that. He realized he was surrounded. Every car he could see in front of him and in the rearview mirror had flags, bumper stickers or other pro-Trump paraphernalia.

Across from the FBI’s headquarters downtown, some bureau personnel began the day mixing with MAGA protesters at an Au Bon Pain as they ordered coffee and breakfast. One official noticed a young man wearing a tactical vest and briefly wondered what made him think he needed to wear military-style gear to a political rally.

Cheney took to Twitter at 7:11 a.m. to denounce the effort by a growing number of her Republican colleagues to try to give Trump a second term by rejecting the electoral college results.

On the drive to work, Cheney spent much of her time trying to lock down assurances from fellow House leaders that she and any other Republican voting to certify Biden’s victory would be able to speak on the House floor during the day’s proceedings.

The crowd gathered to hear Trump speak stretched to the Washington Monument. (Astrid Riecken for The Washington Post; Ray Whitehouse for The Washington Post; Matt McClain/The Washington Post; Matt McClain/The Washington Post)

Nearby, Paul HodgkinsPaul HodgkinsClose The 38-year-old crane operator from Tampa traveled to Washington to show his support for Trump after absorbing false claims that the election was rigged — a decision that would drastically upend his life. perched on a tree to get a good view. Worried about street skirmishes, he had come prepared: Hodgkins had wrapped his forearms in leather gauntlets he had worn in wrestling matches.

Within minutes, the dispatches from officers on the scene worsened.

Then, at 9:46 a.m., an even more frightening report came in from the Lincoln Memorial. Park Police officers radioed in to say there were 500 to 800 people gathered, some with giant banner flags.

Just then, another officer at the Washington Monument radioed in:

These were bright red flags presaging the bloodshed to come. There were still two hours to go before Trump addressed the rally — and three hours before Congress was to convene to formally certify Joe Biden’s election as president. And yet law enforcement authorities declined to take action.

Instructions came over the radio to all Park Police officers:

An officer explained the strategy of restraint: “We’re not going to agitate them.”

At the White House, Trump issued an unambiguous instruction at 8:17 a.m. to Pence, who was preparing to preside over the joint session of Congress at 1 p.m.

Trump supporters gather outside the Capitol in the late morning. Among those present were the Proud Boys, a far-right group that engages in political violence. (Amanda Voisard for The Washington Post; Amanda Andrade-Rhoades for The Washington Post)

Five hours to go

Around the city, there was a carnival atmosphere at the various gatherings of protesters who believed they were not just witnessing history, but helping create it, with Biden’s victory about to be undone.

Employees from D.C.’s Homeland Security and Emergency Management Agency fanned out from the White House to the Capitol in “mobile situational awareness teams” around 9 a.m. Teams near the White House reported an unusual sight: piles of backpacks, hundreds of them, from rallygoers leaving them outside rather than taking them through magnetometers and Secret Service checkpoints for Trump’s speech. The report resonated at D.C.’s homeland security center. During a tabletop exercise that the department had held a week earlier, discarded bags were an indication of possible concealed weapons.

In the Oval Office later that morning, Trump hung around with family members and aides, alternating between watching the television in his private dining room to check on the size of the crowd assembling at the Ellipse and reviewing with speechwriter Stephen Miller the scripted remarks he was set to deliver. Some of those around Trump, including Kimberly Guilfoyle, the girlfriend of the president’s eldest son, Donald Trump Jr., indulged the fantasy that Pence would help overturn the election results.

Trump and Pence spoke by phone that morning. It was a terse call, as Pence reiterated what he had told the president the day before when they met face-to-face in the Oval Office: that he had no choice but to oversee the certification of the electoral college. Speaking from the Naval Observatory, Pence explained that the vice president’s duty was ceremonial and that his authority was limited, no matter how badly Pence may have wanted them to serve a second term.

As the noontime festivities drew near, there were more red flags. At 10:58 a.m., police recovered two firearms from an unattended vehicle north of the Mall. At 11:11 a.m., police found a vehicle near L’Enfant Plaza with a rifle and scope in plain view. And at 11:26 a.m., the Capitol Police investigated a tweet that said a militia was being formed on Capitol Hill.

Outside the Capitol around 11:30 a.m., a conspicuously large contingent of Trump supporters arrived with a rowdy swagger: the Proud Boys, a far-right group that engages in political violence. They stood out from the rest of the MAGA crowd, dozens moving in semi-organized formation — loose columns of five across — as if they were militiamen. They were overwhelmingly male and almost exclusively White. Body armor bulged from under hoodies and jackets. They wore patches or gaiters with Confederate flags, Punisher skulls and other extremist symbols.

As they arrived on the scene, murmurs of “the Proud Boys are here” went through the crowd, and people moved to make a clearing. “Praise God!” one woman said.

At 11:39 a.m., Trump departed the White House by motorcade for the quick drive to the Ellipse, where he gathered with aides, allies and family members beneath a white tent before taking the rally stage.

Trump began speaking at the Ellipse at 11:57 a.m. Midway through his speech, the president publicly pressured his vice president, telling his supporters: “If Mike Pence does the right thing, we win the election. … Mike Pence is going to have to come through for us, and if he doesn’t, that will be a sad, sad day for our country.”

A carnivallike atmosphere permeated the crowd, who believed Biden’s victory was about to be overturned. In his speech, Trump pressured Pence to “come through for us.” (Eric Lee/Bloomberg News; Ray Whitehouse for The Washington Post; Shawn Thew/EPA/Bloomberg News)

Two hours to go

Around noon at the Capitol, Rep. Liz CheneyRep. Liz CheneyClose The GOP congresswoman from Wyoming worked behind the scenes to make sure the Jan. 6 electoral count was not disrupted. Afterward, she paid a steep political price. headed into the GOP cloakroom, an anteroom just off the chamber floor where members gather to relax. Inside, along the wall, sat tables with stacks of paper on them. Republican members lined up to sign the sheets. Cheney poked her head around to see what they were signing. They were registering as co-sponsors to contest Biden’s victory in six key states.

The situation outside was deteriorating. At 12:29 p.m., a Capitol Police officer reported hearing a Taser weapon fired near the Senate. And at 12:33 p.m., Park Police reported that they detained a person with a rifle on 17th Street, near the World War II Memorial, not far from where Trump was speaking on the Ellipse. Cheney’s phone rang. It was her father, former vice president Richard B. Cheney, who had been watching Trump invoke her by name. Now he feared for Liz’s safety. They discussed whether she should tone down the remarks she planned to deliver in support of Biden’s victory.

“Should it affect what you’re going to do?” her father asked.

After some discussion, they agreed she should press on.

At 12:36 p.m., Pence arrived at the Capitol. As the motorcade drew near, one of his staffers was struck by the scale of the crowd.

Pence brought his wife, Karen, and daughter Charlotte along with him to the Capitol, where they were joined by his brother, Greg, a Republican congressman from Indiana. The vice president didn’t have them accompany him to enjoy a historic day. He knew he might need them by his side for emotional support.

As Pence entered the Capitol, his office released the letter to Congress. The finality of its conclusions sent shock waves through Trump’s orbit and beyond.

Midway through Trump’s speech, about 12:45 p.m., Capitol Police officers, along with agents from the FBI and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, were dispatched to investigate reports of a pipe bomb with a timer found outside the Republican National Committee headquarters and suspicious packages at the Supreme Court and near the Democratic National Committee headquarters — all offices close to the Capitol.

The activity proved a distraction for officers guarding the Capitol. A D.C. homeland security official assigned to keep eyes on the swelling crowd was sitting in a black SUV on the east side of the Capitol, by a row of Capitol Police bomb-squad trucks. Suddenly, officers jumped into several of the trucks near him. Half pulled away to the south. Several more took off to the west. The official realized his SUV was now one of the last remaining vehicles and that fewer than 10 officers remained between the Capitol and the growing number of protesters.

The official called Donell HarvinDonell HarvinClose As the head of intelligence at D.C.’s homeland security office, Harvin led a team that spotted warnings that extremists planned to descend on the Capitol and disrupt the electoral count., who said the bomb squads were responding to the suspicious package reported near the RNC building. The two flashed back to their tabletop exercise on Dec. 30, and how an analyst had imagined a scenario in which improvised explosive devices could be used to distract law enforcement before an attack on the Capitol. “Is this really happening?” the official asked Harvin.

The president commanded the crowd to march to the Capitol to give lawmakers the “boldness” needed “to take back our country.” A limited number of police officers were there to meet them. (Michael Robinson Chavez/The Washington Post; Joy Sharon Yi/The Washington Post; Matt McClain/The Washington Post; Michael S. Williamson/The Washington Post; The Blaze; Amanda Voisard for The Washington Post)

Trump continued roaring at the Ellipse, but some in the crowd there started migrating to the Capitol. At 12:46 p.m., Capitol Police began executing protocols to keep the peace. Officers were dispatched to block side streets as a precaution against possible vehicle rammings. This essentially created a protected funnel for the protesters, straight toward the Capitol.

Just before 1 p.m., at D.C.’s homeland security agency headquarters, about four miles south of the Capitol, Harvin and his analysts were watching a variety of live-stream footage broadcast from some of the people they had been most concerned about coming to the city. One angle showed rioters pushing in toward the scaffolding for the inauguration stage. Harvin ran out to the larger emergency operations center room. The crowd looked like it was storming the Capitol.

A city official pointed to CNN, which was displaying images of Pence and Congress meeting inside. “That’s not what’s on television,” the official said.

“It’s going to be,” Harvin fired back.

At 1:03 p.m., Capitol Police found an unoccupied red pickup truck with Alabama tags containing a trove of weapons, including an M4 carbine assault rifle, loaded magazines of ammunition, and components to make 11 molotov cocktails.

Back at the Ellipse, Trump was finishing his speech, and the leader’s edict rang through the city like a call to arms.

“If you don’t fight like hell, you’re not going to have a country anymore,” he said. “We are going to walk down Pennsylvania Avenue — I love Pennsylvania Avenue — and we are going to the Capitol.”

And then, at 1:10 p.m., he told the crowd to march to “try and give [lawmakers] the kind of pride and boldness that they need to take back our country.”

Trump’s edict rang through the city like a call to arms. People began to amass around the Capitol, easily pushing through barrier after barrier. (Amanda Voisard/for The Washington Post; The Washington Post; Joy Sharon Yi/The Washington Post; Amanda Andrade-Rhoades for The Washington Post)

60 minutes to go

Douglas Jensen hadn’t come to Washington planning to enter the Capitol, but he obeyed Trump’s call to march down Pennsylvania Avenue. Jensen hadn’t slept in more than a day when he started walking toward the white dome and was determined to make it inside and witness what he called “the storm” — a declaration of martial law and the arrests of lawmakers who insisted on certifying Biden as the next president.

Near the Capitol, a throng of Proud Boys stood around listening to a live stream of Trump’s speech. It was hard to hear the president’s words over the noise of the crowd, but when he urged demonstrators to descend on the Capitol, the news quickly spread from person to person. It was received as a command among the Proud Boys, who were openly radioing with each other over the walkie-talkie app Zello and casting themselves as revolutionaries.

“1776!” one man called out.

“1776!” fellow marchers responded.

“Whose Capitol? Our Capitol!” they chanted.

Law enforcement officials heard people chant “F— Biden” and “Pelosi’s a pedo,” a reference to baseless claims about pedophilia that had spread widely among QAnon followers. Inside the FBI’s decaying concrete Brutalist headquarters on Pennsylvania Avenue, agents and analysts working at their desks could hear the loud chants of Trump supporters walking toward the Capitol. “FBI traitors!” they shouted. “F— the FBI!”

The closer people got to the Capitol building, the more frenzied and out of control the mob became. The only visible security were police in the distance. Largely unimpeded, protesters pushed through barrier after barrier. At 12:55 p.m., Capitol Police directed all available units to the western front of the Capitol to assist with breaches, and officers inside were instructed to lock some doors. Protesters clashed violently with the few police officers they encountered on the scene.

As police rapidly lost control outside the Capitol, lawmakers and staffers were gathered inside the House chamber for the joint session, which had gotten underway at 1 p.m. The procedural tallying of vote counts began state by state in alphabetical order but was quickly interrupted by a Republican challenge to Arizona’s tally.

Pence presided over the certification process. Rep. Paul A. Gosar (R-Ariz.), in video, challenged his state’s tally. Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.), left, and Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) bumped elbows after the Texan challenged results. (Bill O’Leary/The Washington Post; The Washington Post; Bill O’Leary/The Washington Post)

About 1:30 p.m., Capt. Carneysha MendozaCapt. Carneysha MendozaClose A 19-year veteran of the Capitol Police, Mendoza led officers battling rioters in the Rotunda of the Capitol on Jan. 6. was at home in suburban Maryland. She had just pulled meatloaf from the oven and sat down with her 10-year-old son, Christian, before he was to spend the rest of the day with babysitters. The commander for a Capitol Police civil disturbance unit, Mendoza was about to head into work for her shift in the Capitol starting at 3 p.m.

By then, hundreds of people were encroaching on the Capitol. People climbed trees, jumped on scaffolding, scaled walls and searched for staircases — looking for any way inside the building. Pepper spray wafted over the crowd, creating an acrid haze.

“Break open the gate!” one man yelled, his voice bellowing over the crowd. “We’re not going to be scared! We’re not backing down! You mess with American people, this is what you get!”

This was a full-blown riot.

Largely unimpeded, protesters pushed through barrier after barrier. (Joy Sharon Yi/The Washington Post; Amanda Andrade-Rhoades for The Washington Post; Michael Robinson Chavez/The Washington Post; Amanda Andrade-Rhoades for The Washington Post; Amanda Andrade-Rhoades/For The Washington Post)

Trump did not join his adherents in marching. Despite having said he would go to the Capitol, there was no apparatus set by the Secret Service or White House staff to make his movement happen. Some aides checked to see whether there had been a change of plan, but there was not one.

At 1:45 p.m., rioters discovered that the path leading to the Senate side of the Capitol was unguarded. Men in militia-style gear helped direct people toward that entrance, pushing through at least three more layers of flimsy portable barriers. A lone Black officer in a Capitol Police uniform walked toward the scene. His radio crackled. “Oh, it’s blocked off,” he muttered in surprise, shaking his head. He took one look at the amped-up White mob before him and left.

At 1:50 p.m., the D.C. police commander declared a riot at the Capitol.

Outside the Capitol, some rioters tried to reason with about 10 officers who were struggling to stand their ground on the building’s steps. “This is not going to end well for you,” one of them told the officers. “Look at the numbers. Just go now before it gets ugly. Just stand down.” The officers smirked but kept fighting to hold back the rioters. Within minutes, however, they were overpowered. The path to the doors was clear.

“Get ’em!” people shouted, charging into battle. “Trump! Trump! Trump! Trump! Trump!”

At 1:59 p.m., the first rioters reached the Capitol’s windows and doors and attempted to break inside. At 2:05 p.m., the first fatality was declared: Kevin Greeson, a Trump supporter from Alabama, suffered a heart attack just outside the building on the Capitol grounds.

By now, the joint session had disbanded over objections from Republicans to Arizona’s vote tally, and the two chambers split to debate the matter individually. In the Senate chamber, where Pence was presiding at the rostrum and Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.) was delivering a speech arguing against certifying the vote, Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) received a text message from aide Chris Marroletti: “They’re inside the Capitol.”

At 1:59 p.m., the first rioters reached the Capitol’s windows and doors. They broke inside within minutes. (House impeachment managers; Amanda Voisard for The Washington Post; Michael E. Ruane/The Washington Post: Brent Stirton/Getty Images)

The Capitol is breached

At 2:11, the first rioters gained access to the building by using lumber and a police shield to break a window. Romney walked off the floor and headed in the direction of his small hideaway office but, at 2:12 p.m., encountered Capitol Police Officer Eugene Goodman, who had been running down a second-floor hallway outside the Senate chamber. Goodman motioned for Romney to turn around to avoid rioters. “There are people not far. You’ll be safer inside,” Goodman told Romney. Shaken, he returned to the Senate floor.

At 2:13 p.m., Pence was hastily removed by his Secret Service detail and rushed through a side door to his ceremonial office nearby, along with his family members. The Pences came harrowingly close to danger, as rioters chanting his name charged up the stairs to that precise landing about a minute later. The Senate went into an emergency recess.

At a landing, Goodman turned around and made as if he was going to hit Jensen with the baton. “Back up!” Goodman shouted.

“Hit me, I’ll take it,” Jensen said. “I will take it for my country.”

Goodman turned again to run. “Second floor!” he shouted into his radio as he took the stairs two at a time, warning fellow officers that the crowd was on the move. Jensen ran after him, his arms pumping.

At 2:14 p.m., Goodman reached the second floor. He turned around again to face Jensen and the crowd. He was standing only a few feet away from a set of doors to the Senate chamber, and less than 100 feet from the office where Pence was hiding.

Goodman looked to his left, toward that office. Then he pushed Jensen in the chest and started walking toward the right, where a line of police officers was waiting. Jensen followed, and so did the rioters behind him.

“What’s the point of stopping us at this point?” Jensen said to one officer, in an exchange captured on video obtained by The Post, as rioters’ yells echoed off the marble walls.

“That’s as far as it’s going to go,” the officer declared.

“Then go arrest the vice president!” Jensen said.

The Senate and House adjourned as rioters marched through the Capitol and eventually entered the chambers and lawmakers’ offices. (The Washington Post; Jim Lo Scalzo/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock; Roberto Schmidt/Agence France-Presse/Getty Images; Win McNamee/Getty Images; Jim Lo Scalzo/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock; Win McNamee/Getty Images; Igor Bobic/HuffPost; Saul Loeb/Agence France-Presse/Getty Images)

About 2:15 p.m., officer distress calls crackled over Capt. Carneysha MendozaCapt. Carneysha MendozaClose A 19-year veteran of the Capitol Police, Mendoza led officers battling rioters in the Rotunda of the Capitol on Jan. 6.’s radio. “Capitol Rotunda.” “10-33.” That is the department’s call of last resort, alerting that officers are in trouble. Mendoza turned around and sped to the southeast corner of the Capitol. She wanted to get to the Rotunda stat. She entered through a ground-floor entrance known by Capitol Police as Memorial Door, because of a plaque affixed to a wall there honoring two officers killed in 1998.

Mendoza stepped through an inner set of glass doors and came face-to-face with a crowd of roughly 200 rioters blocking her path to the Rotunda. She turned back to exit and find a safer route. But in the seconds that had elapsed, the crowds were now outside. Mendoza could hear banging on the door and yelling outside. She was trapped. With no protective gear, Mendoza raised her arms and started pushing her way through the crowd, yelling as she had taught her riot-control teams to do: “Get back! Get back! Get back!”

Mendoza made her way through a hallway to a line of police officers near the Rotunda who were trying to keep the crowd from penetrating deeper into the building. She fell in line and tried to help, but the police were already being pushed back. Mendoza’s arm got wedged between a railing and the wall, but a sergeant was able to pull her free.

At 2:19 p.m., Capitol Police emailed an urgent bulletin to all congressional staff:

On the House side, Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) had been presiding when her security detail pulled her from the rostrum, and the House suddenly adjourned at 2:20 p.m.

At the White House, Trump was watching the spectacle play out on television. He was pleased by thousands of his supporters storming the Capitol. Trump tweeted at 2:24 p.m.:

At this very instant, the Secret Service was scrambling to keep Pence safe, producing a remarkable moment of tension between agents and their protectee. Tim Giebels, the lead special agent in charge of Pence’s protective detail, had twice asked the vice president to evacuate, but he refused.

“I’m not leaving the Capitol,” Pence had told Giebels. He feared the image of his departing motorcade might provide vindication to the insurrectionists.

When Giebels asked a third time, at 2:26 p.m., it was an order. “They’re in the building,” the special agent told Pence. “The room you’re in is not secure. There are glass windows. I need to move you. We’re going.”

The vice president and his family and aides were led on a safe path down a staircase to a secured subterranean area that rioters couldn’t reach. Pence’s armored limousine was parked there, and Giebels asked him to get inside.

The vice president and his entourage found safety in a secured underground area of the Capitol, where they would wait out the rioters.

Meanwhile, Eastman, a conservative attorney advising Trump on how to try to overturn the election results, emailed Jacob, Pence’s counsel. He accused the vice president of causing the violence by refusing to block certification of Biden’s victory.

Eastman, who had been working out of a “command center” of rooms in the Willard hotel with Rudolph W. Giuliani and other Trump lawyers and advisers, wrote to Jacob, who was hiding from the mob with the Pences and other senior aides: “The ‘siege’ is because YOU and your boss did not do what was necessary to allow this to be aired in a public way so that the American people can see for themselves what happened.”

Senators were rushed out of the chamber. (House impeachment managers; Shutterstock; Shutterstock)

The head of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-Va.), called the FBI’s deputy director, David Bowdich — the same official who just two days earlier had tried to reassure Warner that the FBI was on top of the Jan. 6 security issue.

Inside the House chamber, lawmakers panicked and struggled with escape hoods. Officers drew guns as protesters drew near. (Rep. Daniel Kildee; Bill O’Leary/The Washington Post; Bill O’Leary/The Washington Post)

30 minutes in

Inside the House chamber, scores of lawmakers were worried for their own safety and unsure what to do. Some members of Congress rapidly lost faith about their security when they saw Capitol Police officers stationed with them anxiously trying to determine who had the keys to lock the doors from the inside.

“It seemed like they knew less about what was happening than we did,” Jayapal said. “Everyone felt unprotected, but we were stuck there.”

The House chaplain led a prayer. A Capitol Police officer said that the backs of lawmakers’ seats were bulletproof and that if rioters broke into the chamber, people should hide behind them. “Get down under your chairs if necessary,” the officer instructed. “Just be prepared. Stay calm.”

The Capitol Police directed members to put on their gas masks because tear gas had been deployed outside. The order was met by blank stares from members who had never been trained to use the masks. Some did not even know where they were located. Rep. Raul Ruiz (D-Calif.), a trained emergency room physician, helped Wild rip off the zipper and remove thick foil inside the bag to unveil the mask. As Rep. Paul A. Gosar (Ariz.), a Trump acolyte who just before the attack had led an objection to the certification of Arizona’s results, struggled with his, Rep. Liz CheneyRep. Liz CheneyClose The GOP congresswoman from Wyoming worked behind the scenes to make sure the Jan. 6 electoral count was not disrupted. Afterward, she paid a steep political price. walked over and helped him get it out of the bag and put it on.

Commotion broke out on the floor as police officers yelled to rioters who had punched through doors directly under the balconies. “Get down to the ground,” the officers instructed as members quickly dropped and continued to crawl toward an escape.

At 2:44 p.m., a shot echoed in the halls. A Capitol Police officer killed Ashli Babbitt as she attempted to force entry into the Speaker’s Lobby adjacent to the House chamber.

Inside the chamber, lawmakers assumed the worst and realized they could soon be overrun by violent intruders. Jayapal thought the rioters were shooting into the chamber.

Rep. Lisa Blunt Rochester (D-Del.) comforted her friend Rep. Val Demings (D-Fla.) in prayer.

Rep. Terri A. Sewell (D-Ala.) called her mother.

Rep. Daniel Kildee (D-Mich.), who has since disclosed lasting mental trauma sparked by his experience, called his family and began to say goodbye after understanding the gravity of the situation; there was a chance he would not make it out alive.

Wild pulled out her phone to find dozens of texts from her son and daughter as they watched news reports from home. She surprised herself as she figured out how to FaceTime her 28- and 25-year-olds. Her son said, “How can you say you’re okay if we can hear the gunshot and the glass shattering?”

After hanging up with her children, Wild homed in on possibly dying and becoming “a source of worry” for her children. Wild told herself: “You’re going to make it out of here, Susan. You’re going to get out of here because your kids need you to get out of here.”

Soon Wild was lying on the ground. Rep. Jason Crow (D-Colo.) held her hand.

Suddenly, pounding noises were coming from the opposite side of the chamber doors closest to members. Fight-or-flight instincts began to kick in for Jayapal as she moved her walking stick to her right hand — her dominant one — so she could hit anyone who came near her. “I was starting to plan that I might die, and if I was going to, then I was going to go down fighting,” she said.

Members discussed how they would position themselves if the mob were to burst through the doors. Crow suggested that members take their pins off so that the rioters could not identify them as the elected officials they wanted to kill.

Just removing a pin was not a solution for every lawmaker, however. While all were under threat, the danger was particularly acute for lawmakers of color, whose identity made them a visible target for the overwhelmingly White throng.

“For many of us, we can’t hide what we look like,” Jayapal said. “We can’t run over and hide in a group of Republicans, and we can’t take off a jacket to blend into a White crowd, which was a very, very real dynamic as we were watching Confederate flags being raised with horrible racist messages.”

As rioters pushed their way into the Speaker’s Lobby, their hatred and zeal was evident. When Capitol Police Officer Harry Dunn ordered them to leave the Capitol, some yelled back:

“President Trump invited us here!”

“Nobody voted for Joe Biden!”

In a rare instance of injecting politics into his job, Dunn replied: “I voted for Joe Biden. Does my vote not count? Am I nobody?”

Rioters then hurled racial epithets at Dunn, who is Black.

“You hear that, guys?” one woman said. “This n—-r voted for Joe Biden!”

Congressional staff members scrambled to barricade doors and evacuate. (Photos by Amanda Voisard for The Washington Post)

45 minutes in

Law enforcement authorities scrambled. In the weeks leading up to Jan. 6, as the FBI had received more and more reports of threats of violence on far-right online forums and social media channels, Bowdich, the agency’s deputy director, had decided to have three tactical teams ready to deploy — a SWAT team in Washington, a Baltimore-based SWAT team positioned just outside the District, and a Hostage Rescue Team also a short drive away. They all responded to the Capitol that day, but they were small, specialized teams, not the kind of overwhelming manpower necessary to turn the tide of a riot.

“Our FBI agents can be accountants, lawyers, chemists,” said Marc Raimondi, a former longtime Justice Department spokesman. “They’re not trained in riot control or traffic control. Obviously they are versatile, but when the Justice Department is your 911 plan for a riot, something’s gone drastically wrong.”

The federal government’s top law enforcement official, acting attorney general Jeffrey Rosen, was alone in his office. He’d given much of his staff permission to work from home, on the assumption that street closures, the rally and general concern about possible unrest could make it difficult to get downtown, in addition to the preexisting coronavirus concerns. But now, with the siege beginning, Rosen juggled an onslaught of phone calls, hopping back and forth between his desk phone in one hand and cellphone in the other.

Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) called Rosen from their secure location to ask him to urgently send reinforcements to the Capitol. Rosen assured them that he already had instructed any nearby federal agent to rush to the scene.

Frustrated by what they felt was Rosen’s noncommittal answer to their demand, Schumer and Pelosi issued a joint statement urging Trump to call off the rioters.

At the same time, a series of urgent conference calls were underway among law enforcement, military, municipal and congressional officials. Sund had called Maj. Gen. William Walker, commander of the D.C. National Guard, before 2 p.m. to request immediate help. Walker relayed the request to the Pentagon, where only the acting secretary of defense, Christopher C. Miller, could give the okay. But after a half-hour, no approval had come. Around 2:30 p.m., Lt. Gen. Walter Piatt, director of the Army staff, told D.C. officials on a conference call that it would not be his best military advice to send in the Guard. He argued that soldiers ringing the Capitol would create bad “optics.” The Army was not denying the requests, Piatt later testified. The service just wanted a clear plan in place before taking what leaders saw as a serious step to deploy armed guardsmen at the Capitol.

Before 3 p.m., units of reinforcements from federal and neighboring law enforcement agencies arrived to help the beleaguered Capitol Police. Members of a specially trained D.C. police disturbance unit commandeered a Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority bus to get close to the Capitol. Officers from Prince George’s County, Md., arrived to help gain control of the north side of the West Terrace, while officers from Montgomery County, Md., and Arlington County, Va., pressed up a staircase on the west side. Virginia State Police officers battled rioters under the mid-level terrace on the west side.

At 2:52 p.m., the first FBI SWAT teams arrived at the Capitol. In total, 520 federal agents from a hodgepodge of agencies responded to an urgent call to help at the Capitol from the Justice Department. It was throwing bodies at a crisis.

Before 3 p.m., units of reinforcements from federal and neighboring law enforcement agencies arrived to help the beleaguered Capitol Police.
(Department of Justice; John Minchillo/Associated Press; Shannon Stapleton/Reuters; @Status_Coup; Ricky Carioti/The Washington Post; Ricky Carioti/The Washington Post; John Minchillo/Associated Press)

60 minutes in

Also around 3 p.m., Paul HodgkinsPaul HodgkinsClose The 38-year-old crane operator from Tampa traveled to Washington to show his support for Trump after absorbing false claims that the election was rigged — a decision that would drastically upend his life., who had watched Trump speak at the Ellipse, made his way into what he eventually realized was the Senate chamber. Police had locked the doors, but mistakenly left one in the gallery unlocked, which some of the rioters used to enter. The chamber looked smaller in real life than it did on television. About two dozen other Trump supporters were inside. “Guys, please don’t wreck anything in here,” Hodgkins told his compatriots.

Hodgkins made his way to the well, holding his Trump flag right next to the desk where Pence had been sitting just 40 minutes earlier to certify Biden’s win.

“Let’s all say a prayer in this sacred space,” declared the shirtless, face-painted “QAnon Shaman,” Jacob Anthony Chansley, who stood behind the desk wielding a bullhorn as several other men bowed their heads.

“Thank you, heavenly father, for gracing us with this opportunity. … Thank you, heavenly father, for this opportunity to stand up for our God-given, unalienable rights. … Thank you for filling this chamber with patriots that love you and that love Christ.”

Police would soon enter the chamber, and by about 3:15 p.m. Hodgkins would follow their orders to leave. “I couldn’t believe that I walked into the Senate so easily,” Hodgkins recalled.

Trump’s refusal to act to stop the siege and his continuing abuse of Pence resonated among Republican lawmakers, some of whom privately confided that the president’s utter absence of empathy for his loyal No. 2 was appalling. “They never did anything about it, but it turned them off,” said one House Republican, describing a consensus view among many of his colleagues.

Some aides huddled in the area just outside the Oval Office where Trump’s receptionist had her desk, hoping the president would wave them in and ask for their advice. But Trump was not seated behind the Resolute Desk; he was holed up in his private dining room, where the television was turned on, and some aides did not want to intrude on him there.

Former New Jersey governor Chris Christie, Trump’s longtime friend and adviser, tried but failed to reach the president, and so sought to deliver a message to him through the television by calling into George Stephanopoulos’s live broadcast on ABC. Two recently departed senior White House officials, former senior counselor Kellyanne Conway and former communications director Alyssa Farah, relayed messages to Trump through intermediaries.

Meadows did not respond.

Since rioters breached the security barricades outside the Capitol, some of the president’s most trusted advisers, including his daughter and Meadows, tried to persuade him to direct his supporters to disperse. They felt Trump’s 2:38 p.m. tweet telling people to “Stay peaceful!” missed the mark.

Ivanka Trump shuttled between her second-floor West Wing office, where she watched the riot unfold on television, and the president’s dining room, where he was watching television, trying to persuade her dad to use stronger language to bring an end to the insurrection. But just when she thought she had gotten him into the right head space, Meadows would call her because the president still was unconvinced.

Trump was being worked from multiple angles. This was around the same time that Kevin McCarthy, House minority leader, called the president practically begging him to denounce the riots.

At 3:13 p.m., Trump tweeted a new message, one that again fell short of what those around him felt was necessary.

Ivanka Trump retweeted her father’s message at 3:15 p.m. and addressed the rioters as “American Patriots.” She deleted her tweet a few minutes later after it was roundly criticized.

Both statements were belligerent and twisted the truth in redirecting blame for the riots, but nevertheless urged his supporters to end the insurrection. Trump sent neither.

Instead, Trump stewed in his grievance: over what he saw as Pence’s betrayal, over blame in the media of him and his supporters for the death and destruction at the Capitol and, ultimately, over the fact that his final attempt to overturn the election results was about to fail.

Rioters seized the scaffolding erected for Biden’s inauguration. (The Washington Post; Evelyn Hockstein for The Washington Post; Evelyn Hockstein for The Washington Post; Amanda Andrade-Rhoades for The Washington Post)

The second hour

As the afternoon hurtled on, the rioters were pushing through the Capitol with greater ferocity and in higher numbers. Gina Bisignano, a salon owner from Beverly Hills, Calif., egged on the violent crowd with a megaphone.

Authorities still had not regained control of the Capitol as the 4 o’clock hour arrived. The top House and Senate leaders had been evacuated to Fort McNair, an Army post in Southwest Washington along the Anacostia River. Rep. Liz CheneyRep. Liz CheneyClose The GOP congresswoman from Wyoming worked behind the scenes to make sure the Jan. 6 electoral count was not disrupted. Afterward, she paid a steep political price. and Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (N.Y.), the Democratic caucus chairman, were the highest-ranking members of the House still on Capitol grounds and had been conferring through much of the afternoon. Outside a secure committee room across the street from the Capitol, Cheney saw Jeffries and brought up the topic of impeaching Trump.

Trump still had not addressed the crisis on camera or instructed his supporters to go home when, at 4:05 p.m., Biden appeared on television from Wilmington, Del.

Senators from both parties watching from their secure room at the Capitol complex applauded. “It was like, wow, we have a leader who said what needed to be said,” Romney said.

Trump followed Biden by posting on Twitter at 4:17 p.m. a video of his own remarks about the siege. He had begun recording it in the Rose Garden before Biden’s live address, and Trump aides were upset that by speaking first, the Democrat came across as more statesmanlike. Trump’s message was ambiguous. He opened his speech by repeating his lie that the election was rigged. He told his supporters to “go home,” but immediately added: “We love you. You’re very special.”

During the videotaping, Trump did not stick to the script his speechwriters had composed and had to record at least three takes to get one that his aides felt was palatable enough to share with the public. “That was actually the best one,” a senior White House official said.

The officer lay on his back in the middle of the archway, using his baton to fight off assaults. Footage shows Jeffrey Sabol, wearing a helmet, appearing suddenly and wrestling the baton out of the officer’s hand, leaving him to defend himself with only his hands.

Around the time Sabol took the baton, another rioter used a metal crutch to beat on police standing in the archway. The man wielding the crutch climbed over a low fence, grabbed a second officer and pulled him headfirst down a set of stairs and into the mob. Sabol was right there, his hand on the second officer’s back. Then, with a flagpole flying an American flag, a third rioter beat the second officer, who was captured on camera lying facedown in the crowd.

Sabol was photographed holding the stolen baton over the back of the second officer’s neck as he lay prone and defenseless. Later, Sabol described himself as a “patriot warrior” who was protecting the officer from his fellow rioters. But he said he couldn’t remember whether he had hit the second officer himself because, court records say, “he was in a fit of rage and details are cloudy.” In an August court filing, Sabol’s lawyer says he “vehemently denies” hitting the officer with the baton.

The officer from whom Sabol had stolen the baton was also dragged into the crowd, where rioters ripped off his helmet, Maced him and stomped on him. He required staples in his head.

At the Justice Department, Rosen watched images of violence unfurl across the television screen. He was horrified by the literal and spiritual damage being done to one of America’s most important institutions.

Authorities used stun grenades to try to bring the crowds under control. (Photos by Evelyn Hockstein for The Washington Post)

The final hours

Little by little, Capitol Police officers and their reinforcements made progress in containing the violence and controlling the insurrectionists. Pence remained secure in his underground hideaway, accompanied by Short, who called Meadows late that afternoon to alert the White House chief of staff that the vice president planned to push through with certifying the election results as soon as the Capitol could be cleared and Congress could reconvene.

Neither Pence nor Short spoke to Trump that day, and Rep. Kevin McCarthy, the House minority leader, was the only congressional leader to communicate with the president. “What would have been the point?” an adviser to then-Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said, adding, “Trump wasn’t going to be helpful.”

Trump chimed in at 6:01 p.m. with a new tweet that, much like his Rose Garden video message, propagated his election fraud lie while telling the “great patriots” to “go home with love & in peace.”

Trump’s video and tweets enraged some Republican members of Congress, even loyal ones like McCarthy and Graham. “That was a bad tweet,” Graham said of Trump’s message excusing what had happened that day.

At last, the Capitol was locked down. Capt. Carneysha MendozaCapt. Carneysha MendozaClose A 19-year veteran of the Capitol Police, Mendoza led officers battling rioters in the Rotunda of the Capitol on Jan. 6. of the Capitol Police was finally at rest. Sitting on a bench in the Rotunda, she looked around and reflected on what had happened. Officers clumped on the floor all around the room. They all looked defeated. Mendoza’s Fitbit recorded her as having been in a workout for nearly four straight hours — a testament to the extreme physical demands on her and other officers.

Visibly emotional from the day’s trauma, Pence gaveled the Senate back into session at 8:06 p.m.

When it was Graham’s turn to speak, the South Carolina Republican was animated as he wistfully described Trump as a friend who had drifted away, if only for a moment.

Even as the Senate returned to order, the pressure on Pence did not let up. Eastman, the attorney advising Trump, emailed Jacob, Pence’s counsel, around 9 p.m. to try to convince the vice president to move to not certify the election results.

In the past, Pence and his team had cited the Electoral Count Act, which laid out constitutional procedures for counting votes in presidential elections, as a reason he could not send electors back to states. But in the email to Jacob, Eastman argued that Pence had not precisely followed that law by allowing debate to extend past the allotted time — and therefore could disobey it by rejecting electors from Arizona.

For Lankford, the day’s trauma altered his journey. The Oklahoma Republican, who previously spent a decade as program director of a Baptist youth camp, was among the 12 senators who initially had opposed certifying electoral votes from some key states. But after his floor speech objecting to the Arizona count was interrupted by the Senate’s riot-induced evacuation, and after spending the afternoon in hiding from violent marauders, Lankford changed his mind. He voted to certify the results. In the end, just six senators objected to counting Arizona’s votes and seven objected to counting Pennsylvania’s.

Of the 12 senators who initially had opposed certification, Lankford said, “six after the riot still stuck with that and said, ‘Let’s keep pushing.’ The other six of us, myself included, said: ‘I’m not going to win this debate. We only have 12 of us to begin with, and clearly, after what’s happened in the Capitol today, this is not going to get better. We’ve got to find ways to pull the country together.’”

The House GOP was different. At 9:02 p.m., Pelosi gaveled the House into session. After everything that had happened, all the death and destruction, nearly two-thirds of the Republican conference — 121 members — voted against counting Arizona’s votes. Even more, 138 members, voted against counting the tally from Pennsylvania.

With their business completed in separate chambers, senators migrated to the House chamber to reconvene their joint session. At 3:24 a.m., Congress voted to confirm the election results. Pence, who was presiding, formally declared Biden the next president of the United States.

Before Jan. 6, the vice president — anticipating a divisive and emotional day — had specifically requested that Senate Chaplain Barry Black close the session in prayer. And so, at 3:41 a.m., Black, a retired Navy rear admiral, stood at the rostrum to deliver a prayer to a legislative body still shaken by the long day’s events. As lawmakers lowered their heads in silence, with Pence standing over his right shoulder, Black gave voice to their shared emotions.

“We deplore the desecration of the United States Capitol building, the shedding of innocent blood, the loss of life and the quagmire of dysfunction that threaten our democracy,” Black said.

He then sounded an unmistakable condemnation of the weeks-long campaign to infect the body politic with lies and disinformation about the election.

“These tragedies have reminded us that words matter,” Black continued, “and that the power of life and death is in the tongue.”

Alice Crites, Amy Gardner, Rosalind S. Helderman, Tom Hamburger, Spencer S. Hsu, Dan Lamothe, Carol D. Leonnig, Ellen Nakashima, Jon Swaine, Julie Tate, Ben Terris and Cleve Wootson contributed to this report.


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